Federal Manager's Daily Report

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Five unions representing Veterans Affairs employees have pressed the department to better educate its employees on the “rights, benefits, and services available to them” related to the pandemic, saying the VA’s “messaging and guidance to frontline employees have been inconsistent and inadequate.”

A letter says for example that while agencies have “considerable discretion to grant administrative leave to employees who are unable to work because of COVID-19” leave requests still “are either arbitrarily denied or employees simply do not know they have the option to request administrative leave in lieu of personal sick and annual leave.”

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Further, while a pandemic relief law enacted a year ago created a presumption that employees in certain positions who contracted the virus did so at work—and therefore are eligible to seek benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act—the VA “has done very little to educate workers about these rights,” they wrote.

“We urge the department to take an active role in educating the VA workforce by conducting regular, immersive trainings designed to empower them with the knowledge they need to keep themselves, their loved ones, and veterans safe during the pandemic and beyond,” they wrote.

They added: “Simply publishing memos and lists of frequently asked questions by email is not effective training and education. Releasing fifteen-minute modules in the talent management system is not effective training and education.”

One of the unions joining the letter, the AFGE, meanwhile has opened a website (https://www.hazardpaylawsuit.com) for employees of the VA and other agencies to join its class action lawsuit seeking hazardous duty pay (for GS employees) or environmental differential pay (for wage grade employees) for exposure to the Coronavirus while at work.

That union recently won a suit against the VA for some $145 million in back pay for some 3,200 former and current nurses and physician assistants for work they were required to do during off-duty hours.

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2022 Federal Employees Handbook